A short personal tale from “myatheistlife” and how they dealt with their grandmothers MH condition.
I was 20 or 21 and visiting my grandparents. My grandma was suffering Alzheimer’s. One evening I was walking down the hall to my bedroom and she was there, staring into the hall closet. I paused my motion as she looked up at me. With a fearful and questioning kind of look in her eyes she asked me “Do you think I’m crazy?” I smiled, gave her frail body a big hug and told her “no, but you are the best grandma ever.”
She had the toaster in her hands and was trying to put it away among the bed linens. She may never have ever recalled that moment in the rest of her life. When I think of it I can’t help but think it was one of the most compassionate things I’ve ever done. She was not cogent much in those days. I always hoped that her cogent moments were full of love.
I cannot imagine even to this day how fucked up your mind has to be to ask someone if they think you are crazy. To not trust what you perceive the world to be enough to know if you are in fact sane or not. To doubt what you think you know so much that you ask for a second opinion. All of us seem to be broken in some way or other. I think that the beauty of the human mind is finding when your frailties are exposed, you are near some one who shows you compassion.
A new contribution from Keir Liddle who is founder and blogger over at The Twentyfirst Floor.
Batman has a special place in the mythology of my mental illness.
Batman also has a special place in the ire of some psychiatrists and mental health professionals for depicting an unrealistic vision of mental illness. They raise concerns about the sometimes overtly psychoanalytic and heightened depictions of mental health problems like psychosis and the way therapy and prison intertwine into a gothic whole in the twisted vision of Arkham. Part asylum, part penitentiary, all nightmarish vision of insanity and the worst excesses of an imagined US prison system.
I don’t wish to add to the criticism that has gone before. Nor do I intend to defend the cartoonish and exaggerated world of Gotham against such allegations. Except to say that I find these concerns less pressing than my own concerns about how mental health is represented in more mainstream media such as TV drama, film and in particular soap operas. Where typically you find that a character with mental health issues has been sketched around a writers reading of the DSM criteria and is more often than not only ever on a journey from blood spilt crisis to crisis: Either perpetrating acts of violence against others or themselves or providing a misplaced foil for some ill conceived comic relief.
Batman is special to me in many ways. I could never therefore give a fair and objective account of whether these comics do harm and stigmatize the mentally ill.
I can tell you about my relationship with Batman though.
My mother was/is schizophrenic. The qualification is required as I haven’t spoken to her or even seen her in the last fifteen years – I am now 30. In my defence this is not for want of trying to build burnt bridges though to my shame in recent years I’ve abandoned the long sessions standing at her door knocking endlessly and never being let in.
Central to one of my mothers delusions was a board game we were gifted by a family friend specifically the Batman the Movie board game. It randomly became a focus for her and her obsession culminated when she took me and my brother driving in the middle of the night to try and find the Dark Knight. We were ordered to turn our faces to the open windows of the car in the back seat as she believed it was filling with poison gas (no doubt placed there by her enemies at the Scottish Qualifications Authority) and we had to answer her incessant questions about the location of Batman. She eventually abandoned the search turning quickly into a frozen field and we drove silently home in the dark.
A lifetime’s obsession was born.
Now I look at Batman and I can see an allegory for my own self loathing and mental health issues.
You could consider that many of Batman’s foes represent a twisted reflection of at least an aspect of the Dark Knights personality or psychological makeup:
- The Joker as what Batman could have become driven mad with grief
- Two-Face as representing the struggle between Batman and Bruce Wayne as the duality at the heart of batman’s existence
- The Penguin and Black Mask as versions of Bruce Wayne who turned to crime instead of vigilantism
- And Mr Freeze as an older Bruce Wayne loosing his wife instead of his parents.
When Batman looks in the mirror he might see, in his darker moments, his foes reflected back at him or at the least the “madness” that drives them.
This is something I can relate to when I look at myself in the mirror when I am in the sinkhole of depression. For it isn’t always me that looks back, it isn’t always me that stands in front of my critical and hateful gaze. It is a twisted reflection an amalgamation of failures, faux pas and slights both imagined and real. It is a twisted corpulent mess of scars and self loathing.
When I look into the mirror I don’t see the Joker, Two Face or the Penguin. I see all my weaknesses, all my faults and flaws reflected back like an exaggerated comic book villain but all too real. Etched into my reflection is every ounce of self doubt that I inflict upon myself, every inch of self loathing and hate. Every bit of guilt and shame I feel (deserving and undeserving) looking back at me taunting me and telling me I am worthless, useless and obsolete.
If you stare into the abyss sometimes you become the abyss.
Not only that but when the mirror presents such a twisted self image I, like Wayne, adopt my secret identity and put on my mask. Stick on the smile and get on with it and pretend nothing is as bad as it is or hide under the duvet refusing to leave the Batcave. You rarely see a depressive at their worst – which must make it difficult for most to believe the bad days exist but they most certainly do.
Though unlike Batman when I put on my armour and head out to face the world my battle isn’t with supervillans on the streets of Gotham but it is a battle with myself in my own head.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Todays article is from Tania Browne, who can be followed at @CherryMakes on Twitter and at her new blog endless-curiosity.com, where she write about sex, feminist issues and “science stuff “. She is a mature student studying for a BSc, and has become interested in Humanism and skeptic issues in the last couple of years.
I think depression frightens people who’ve never suffered from it. There are no obvious outward signs, The Depressed are among us and they could be anybody. Even for those of us with depressive tendencies, it can hit us at odd moments in our life. It can strike even at times we’re told should be the most wonderful and fulfilling. My post-natal depression was like that. It was mentioned in the pregnancy and baby book I eagerly lapped up, but tucked away, a few sentences somewhere between reusable nappies and whether your new born darling was really smiling or simply had wind. It was almost unacknowledged. Not Normal.
It’s expected that parents, mothers in particular, will love their children the moment they pop out as plump, tiny bundles of joy. It’s almost as if nobody can countenance that it just might not happen that way. I certainly thought it would be hard work, but fulfilling. I’d suffered from mild depressive episodes since puberty, but things had improved when I met my long term partner, my self-esteem was higher, I was in a job I liked, and we were about to have a child after 6 years together. What could possibly go wrong? I was exhilarated. I was about to become a Mother, that hallowed state in which all women supposedly flourish.
I had a wonderful pregnancy, followed by a relatively quick and easy birth. The problems started soon after. Wrapped in a glow of endorphins, I seemed unable to comprehend that my daughter needed feeding. The midwives were busy, and by the time it occurred to anyone to help me with that vital first breastfeed, my baby was too frantic and angry to latch on. The situation got worse and there were blood sugar tests as she refused the breast again and again. I ended up bottle feeding my child, in tears, in a hospital side room filled to bursting with posters about how breast was best. I felt like a failure before I’d been a mother for 48 hours.
Things were no better when I got home after a few days. This was meant to be a joyous time, but all I seemed to feel was rage and resentment. In pregnancy all the attention had been on me, and suddenly I was a sideshow to this wailing… thing in a crib. I was tired, tetchy and resentful. I had a massive sense of foreboding that I was going to fail. My daughter, once hoped for, had rapidly become a ball and chain wrapped around my neck. The full implication that This Was It, my freedom was over, hit me.
I kept hoping that what I was feeling was the well-documented “baby blues”, that it was all simply my hormones re-adjusting and that I’d be fine within the week. But things only got worse. My daughter developed colic, and for around 5 hours each evening she would scream. Literally, scream until her face was a mix of red and purple rage and there was nothing we could do to stop her – no amount of pacing, tummy rubbing, soothing words could stop this tiny demanding creature.
I remember one particular night, alone in her room while she was in a colic-induced rage, deciding that I should kill her. It made perfect sense to me, I felt cold and logical. If an animal were in this much pain and there was nothing you could do to ease it, you’d put it down. It would be the kindest thing to do. Didn’t it make sense that I should do the “kind” thing for this tiny human? Luckily the “logic” passed almost as soon as it had arrived, and I realised I couldn’t do such a thing. Instead, I decided that I was such a terrible person for thinking these thoughts that I should save her by killing myself instead. I started to plan an overdose and hoard tablets. This was calculated, not an impulse that was gone by the next morning.
It may seem odd to you that while all this was going on, not a single person seemed to notice. I had home visits every few days from a Midwife, then a Health Visitor. Did they not notice anything? The only answer I can give is, you become incredibly good at hiding these feelings because you know that they’re “not natural”. You’re wrong; you’re sick and bad for feeling this way. I did my best to hide it because while I resented her, I was also, conversely, terrified of my daughter being taken away from me. They’d take her away because I was a shit mother, I’d never see her again. That was incentive enough to pretend everything was fine.
Thankfully, my partner found my hidden stash of pain-killers one afternoon, and confronted me about it. Tears and admissions poured out of me. For me, this was the turning point, the offer of help that I’d been too proud and too afraid to ask for. An emergency meeting with the Health Visitor was set up, and from there I was hastily dispatched to my GP and prescribed Fluoxetine, which I’d found helpful in a previous bout of mild depression. I’ll never know whether the drug had an effect, or if I was improving as part of a natural cycle but by the time my daughter was 9 months old I was much better and ready to return to work.
It seems odd to me when I look back at this time. My daughter is now a vibrant happy 9 year old and she has a 6 year old brother. I suffered from post natal depression with my son also, but somehow, although the feelings were more acute it was easier to handle because I had read up on the topic. I knew it would probably happen and was better prepared. I knew I didn’t have to face it alone.
I think it would be wrong to medicalise every woman who has ambivalent feelings or doubts about new motherhood. On the contrary, we should acknowledge it openly, discuss it. Motherhood is in many ways a joy but also a bind. A loss of identity and individuality is to be expected in those first demanding years, and it can be frustrating. But there are also cases, like mine, where there are far deeper mental problems. If only the baby books I read at the time had prepared me more.
Our latest contribution comes from Charlotte Ross who blogs at charlotteeross.wordpress.com
Recently, I have had a lot of big questions swimming round my brain. They have got in the way of other thoughts and bounced off the inside of my head. Like rubber balls. And they have made it difficult to think about anything else – work or home or family or love or opening letters or phoning the bank. And all of these circling questions orbit an even bigger one, that is lurking darkly: just who the heck am I now?
About six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I’d asked for the referral myself from my GP. I had been noticing increasingly marked patterns in my mood swings and periods of depression over the last few years, wondering if perhaps they amounted to more than momentary lows and highs. I had been finding out about the illness, talking to others with it, trying to see if the diagnosis fitted me. And I was pretty sure it did. So I really shouldn’t have felt the shock that I felt when the Consultant Psychiatrist said, “yes, after reviewing your history, I think you do fit the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar II.”
I really thought I would be relieved to know that, to find out the reason why I felt the way I did. Be able to find a few answers. But you know what? I really didn’t. No, I left the clinic feeling pole-axed. And it has taken me, is still taking me time to come to terms with that. I feel quite silly about it. I feel I am making too much fuss. After all, I am the same person who walked into the clinic as walked out. Nothing has really changed except for words. Except it has.
All those bouts of depression that I suffered, I felt I’d “beaten”. I was proud of getting over every single one, but each time I fell into another, I got cross with myself for the perceived weakness that meant I had allowed myself to get ill and depressed again. I wanted to see my life as a happy life, just peppered with occasional moments of depression: I have always hated being referred to as “depressive”. For god’s sake! I’m the cheeriest person you’ll meet! I am a cock-eyed, ridiculous optimist. I am annoyingly sunny and I love life. I am silly, I laugh a LOT. I did not want to think that my life could be summed up like that: “depressive”. No. Not me.
But worse than my changed view on depression were my new views on the mania, I realised. Because I have always lived my life up and down with very little in the middle. I am not severely bipolar, and when I’m high, I am not at all antisocial. I just do everything faster and faster, sleep less and less, have more of a ‘devil may care’ attitude and ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm for practically any venture you’d care to throw at me. My fuse is shorter then too, and I am inclined to be rather impatient. I’m probably exhausting to be around at that point. But the thing is – I quite like me like that. I feel good. I can do things. I can write things. I have energy and a buzz. I make stuff and my kids think I’m fun to be around.
So the bit of this ‘coming to terms’ malarkey that I’m really struggling with is looking at this part of me, which I really like, and wondering if it is really just down to mental illness. Is it me, who knits scarves into the early hours and comes up with plots for novels, and invents cakes or is it illness? Is it creativity or mania? Is the illness an extraneous part of me, or am I the illness? And do I have to treat it? Can’t I just keep that whizzy bit? Find a way to get some sleep, but keep the crazy thrill of doing everything at super fast speeds? There’s got to be some bloody upside to it all.
But that thrill doesn’t stay. That’s the problem. The faster I go, the quicker I get to the top of the summit and then the faster I plummet to earth. Crash and burn. I’m a mum to three children, on my own, and I can’t be crashing and burning and looking after them. And I go to work. I teach. I can’t be falling apart in class, I need to find a balance of stability within myself and my life. I don’t want to lose parts of me, but perhaps in the short term, it’s a risk I have to take in order to manage the responsibilities I have. The flighty part of me doesn’t want mood stabilisers. The grown-up part knows it’s probably what I have to do. I’m frightened I’m going to find I’m not who I think I am when I start taking them. I don’t want to be cured of the bits of me I really like. I really like riding the rollercoaster you see.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best advice and the kindest words I’ve had, have been from my children. We have talked about my illness and talked about what Bipolar means. My children had questions of their own, of course, especially the boys, who in their lives have also come to terms with lifelong diagnoses of their own. They asked, “Can you get better and be cured?” (sadly,no); “Is it like Dementia, that it gets worse until you die of it?” (thankfully, no); “If you take the medicine will you feel better?” (probably). “Will you always have it?”. Well, yes I will.
But my eldest son said to me, “Mum, it’s just a diagnosis. You will get used to it.” He should know.He has got used to his. As has his younger brother. And of course, all three children were right: I’m the same mum, I’m the same me. I just have a new label, a new signpost.
“You will get the right help now, Mum, that’s all it means”, said Boy 1, “What’s for dinner?”
And as I cooked the supper and the kids bickered over the tv remote, I realised why I was upset in the clinic. I had wanted the doctor to tell me I was mistaken, that it was all in my head, that I just had mood swings and the odd bout of depression. But of course, that is exactly what the consultant told me: really, it is all in my head.